Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Creighton and Butler in Indianapolis.
When Creighton basketball has been mentioned over the past several seasons, Doug McDermott has rightfully been the primary focus of conversation regarding the Blue Jays. As a senior this season, McDermott has emerged as the heavy favorite for every national player of the year award. He is averaging over 25 points per game along with seven rebounds per contest for a 20-4 Creighton squad that is right in the thick of things in the race for the Big East crown. If the Blue Jays win the Big East and if they make noise in the NCAA Tournament will have a lot to do with the supreme talent of Doug McDermott; however, the team’s success has not and will not be only because of McDermott’s heroics. Creighton not only has arguably the best player in college basketball, but it also has a very capable supporting cast of role players that has been very essential to the team’s success.
McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).
The most heralded member of Creighton’s supporting cast this season has been senior forward Ethan Wragge. After spending his first three seasons of eligibility in a reserve role for the Blue Jays, Wragge has stepped up his production with his entry into the starting lineup. His scoring average has gone from 7.7 points per game as a junior to 11.6 points per game as a senior. Wragge also grabbed plenty of national attention after he exploded for 27 points on nine made three-pointers in Creighton’s blowout victory at Villanova on January 20. The program has recognized the senior’s contributions and honored its bearded sharpshooter with Lumberjack Night at the CenturyLink Center when it hosted DePaul on February 7.
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s tilt between DePaul and Butler in Indianapolis.
Butler‘s meteoric rise from the Horizon League to the Big East in just two years has been well-documented. While it is great to discuss how the little school from Indianapolis was able to conquer some of the country’s national powers and sustain the success that predicated the conference ascension, Butler is now in the Big East and it is now appropriate to discuss what the Bulldogs have to do in their new league to carry on the past success. After last night’s loss to DePaul in a double-overtime game where the Bulldogs gave up an 11-point lead in the final minutes of regulation, Butler sits at 0-3 in conference play and is wondering what has gone wrong.
Heads are Hanging at Butler after an 0-3 Start (AP)
In the preseason, Butler was viewed as an unknown commodity and was subsequently picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll. It had a new head coach in Brandon Miller and its top returnee – Roosevelt Jones – was lost for the season with a wrist injury suffered over the summer. Once the season began, the Bulldogs appeared to be better than advertised during the non-conference slate. Despite finishing 1-2 at the Old Spice Classic in late November, the Bulldogs played well in all three games – including a two-point loss to preseason top 10 Oklahoma State, and a two-point overtime loss to an LSU squad that entered the season with high expectations. If you removed the three games in Orlando, the Bulldogs went a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play. Along the way, sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall began to emerge as a legitimate high-low combination with standout potential.
With the exception of Villanova and perhaps Butler, every Big East team at this point probably wishes its season was going a little better. Still, with the exceptions of Seton Hall and DePaul, the league’s teams as a whole have done enough to avoid resume-killing losses entering conference play, and therefore eight teams have a reasonable chance to dream about making the NCAA Tournament field in mid-March. But every team, including top 10 Villanova, has its weaknesses and struggling players, so here’s a look at who needs to step up on each squad if it hopes to achieve its postseason goals.
Villanova Has Had a Great Preconference Season – Can It Continue? (U.S. Presswire)
The Wildcats haven’t been shy about shooting the three-pointer this year. During the past six years, Jay Wright’s club has dedicated about 34 percent of its field goal attempts to the long ball. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 45.7 percent, seventh highest in the country. The problem? The Wildcats are shooting only 32.7 percent from three, 204th best nationally. Jay Wright has role players who are capable shooters – Josh Hart, DylanEnnis, and Kris Jenkins each drills at least 38 percent of his attempts – but his top two volume shooters have struggled from beyond the arc. James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono have taken a combined 140 three-pointers, but also hit just 28.5 percent of them. Overall, Bell and Arcidiacono have improved considerably from last season, but if Wright is going to continue to let those two bomb away from distance, they’ll need to at least improve their percentages to last year’s level (Bell at 36 percent; Arcidiacono at 33 percent).
The Bluejays have become the new Gonzaga: All offense and little defense. The last time Creighton was a better defensive team than offensive one was 2008 when it ranked 70th in defensive efficiency and 106th in offensive efficiency under previous head coach, Dana Altman. This year is much of the same: Creighton ranks fourth offensively and 59th defensively. But to give the team some credit, this appears to be their best defensive team since 2007 when they ranked 37th nationally. However, that still won’t be good enough to make a deep run in March. Greg McDermott’s team doesn’t force many turnovers or block many shots. The guards need to interrupt passing lanes better, and the bigs, especially NPOY candidate Doug McDermott, who hasn’t blocked a shot the whole season, need to be a more imposing defensive force around the basket.
With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.
What They’ve Done So Far:Washington State has looked awful in the first three weeks of the season. After sneaking by Cal State Bakersfield on opening night, the Cougars handled Lamar with ease nine days later. They then made the short trip over to Spokane to face Gonzaga, where they were easily dispatched by the Bulldogs, 90-74. That wasn’t the low point, however. That came three days later in front of a sleepy home crowd at Beasley Coliseum, where lowly TCU came in and pulled off a stunning 64-62 upset.
Things Have Gone Poorly In This Pivotal Season For Head Coach Ken Bone
First Round Preview: Washington State meets Butler in Lake Buena Vista on Thursday morning. The Bulldogs have started the season at 4-0 and their best win came in overtime against Vanderbilt last week. They feature as balanced an attack on the offensive end of the floor as you’ll see in this field, with both forward Khyle Marshall and guard Kellen Dunham averaging 15.8 PPG a piece. Where the Cougars have been struggling is on offense, and junior Alex Barlow will prove to be a pesky pain in the side for their guards. He’s averaging 2.0 SPG and recorded three of them in Butler’s game at Ball State last Saturday.
Potential Later Round Match-up: If the bracket holds, it looks like the Cougs will face Purdue on Friday and Siena on Sunday. These aren’t exactly opponents that will provide a huge boost to the RPI, making a possible upset of Butler even more important. The Boilermakers have opened the season at 5-1, but that record doesn’t look as good when you consider the fact that the best win came against Eastern Illinois. Everything goes through sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson for head coach Matt Painter, who is scoring at a 13.8 PPG clip and averaging 4.4 APG. Siena has opened the year at 2-4 with wins over St. Bonaventure and Cornell. It faces Memphis in its opener at the Old Spice Classic.
Outlook: While two wins may be possible, in all honesty the Cougars should be expecting one. Until Ken Bone’s guys show some resemblance of an offense, it’s going to be best to keep the expectations low in Pullman.
Happy holidays everyone! Feast Week is upon us, and the Big East has been performing pretty well across the board so far this season. There appears to be a lot of parity in the conference, and a few surprise teams like Xavier and Providence look like they may be real contenders this season. Let’s jump into the previous week of action.
Xavier is Creeping up the Power Rankings Behind Semaj Christon
10.) DePaul (3-2), LW (10): DePaul looks like it might be a solid step up from where it has been the last few seasons, but last night’s game against Wichita State shows there’s still a lot of opportunities for improvement.
9.) Seton Hall (4-2), LW (8): The Pirates have a penchant for close games. Four of their six games have been decided by single figures, including both of their losses:a 77-74 double-overtime heartbreaker to Mercer, and an 86-85 loss to Oklahoma.
T-7.) Butler (4-0), LW (9):Butler is still undefeated by the narrowest of margins, winning an overtime thriller against Vanderbilt and a one-point game against Ball State last week. Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham are keeping the Butler offense afloat, each by averaging 15.8 points per game.
T-7.) St. John’s (3-1), LW (5):Phil Greene IV had a big week for the Johnnies, scoring 16 and 22 points in tight wins over Bucknell and Monmouth, respectively. Greene’s contributions in the backcourt have been very important for a St. John’s team that is struggling to score.
6.) Providence (6-1), LW (6):The Friars had as good of a week as anyone, winning three games over solid competition before dropping last night’s Paradise Jam championship to Maryland. The frontcourt combination of Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris has been as effective as any in the league in the early part of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed his report after Tuesday’s game in Indianapolis between Butler and Vanderbilt.
The 2013-14 season is supposed to be a transition year for Butler as it entered its first season in the new Big East. For starters, the team lost key offensive weapons Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith to graduation after last season. With the team’s personnel already in a bit of a rebuilding phase, things took a stunning turn in early July when Brad Stevens left Butler to take the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics. With assistant Brandon Miller replacing Stevens, things got even dicier for the Bulldogs in August when top returnee Roosevelt Jones was lost for the season after suffering a wrist injury during the team’s summer trip to Australia. Entering the season then, a Butler program that had developed a reputation for stability over the last several years was suddenly searching for an identity. Through the first three games of that search, Butler has found a semblance of what it is looking for in the play of sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall.
Khyle Marshall Was Outstanding Tuesday Night (IndyStar)
As a freshman last season, Dunham experienced a lot of the ups and downs that goes along with being a freshman. He put up a respectable 9.5 points per contest – which was good for fifth-best on the team – but he only shot 37.5 percent from the field. Stepping into the void left by the departed Clarke, Dunham has upped his level of play thus far in his sophomore season. After putting up a solid 13 points in a season-opening 89-58 blowout victory over Lamar, the sharpshooter had a career-best performance in this past Saturday’s narrow 70-67 triumph over Princeton. In Tuesday evening’s overtime defeat of Vanderbilt, Dunham set the tone early for Butler by scoring 10 of his 16 points in the first half. As Vanderbilt fought back to force overtime, the sophomore showed great resolve in effectively facilitating the Butler offense and providing excellent defense against a Commodore attack that valiantly battled back from a 14-point second half deficit.
Last night three Big East teams played important non-conference games and all three escaped with wins. Here are three positives and three negatives from the Butler, St. John’s and DePaul on Tuesday evening.
Butler’s Khyle Marshall Took Over the Game Last Night (KC Star)
Khyle Marshall down the stretch: Butler was able to beat Vanderbilt in large part to Marshall’s outstanding play in the last 10 minutes of that game. Marshall scored 16 of the Bulldogs final 23 points, including outscoring the Commodores by himself in overtime. Marshall took control of the game when his team needed him the most and it was truly stunning to watch him go to work. To begin overtime, he scored on a layup, using a nifty spin to get by his defender, then had two similar falling 10-footers, using his quickness and size to create the necessary separation. In a tight game against a solid SEC team, Marshall stepped up and was a joy to watch as he continually got into the lane and finished with eight made baskets around the rim.
DePaul’s Seniors: Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young put on a clinic against Wisconsin-Milwaukee last night. They both played 36 minutes in a tightly contested game. Melvin shot the ball great all night, finishing with four made threes and 20 points. Young distributed the ball nicely as well, assisting on four three-pointers, and adding 19 points. Maybe most impressive was their contribution rebounding the ball. With an inexperienced front line, the seniors stepped up and constantly helped to rebound against a tough team, combining for 16 boards. It was great to see the seniors give the extra effort on the glass to add to their usual offensive performances in order to come away with a win. Read the rest of this entry »
*Ed. Note: the statistics in this column were aggregated prior to Tuesday night’s St. Louis-VCU game.
Difference Margins in Conference Games: The offense/defense difference margins are beginning to “behave” as teams with winning records (Charlotte and Temple excepted) have positive difference margins, while teams with losing records (Dayton excepted) have negative difference margins. Temple, with a 5-5 record, has a -0.001, just two one-thousandths under “positive.” Tiers within the winning and losing groups continues to be messy, and occasionally explains why a team is succeeding or failing.
Looking over the “standings” this week a few things jump out…
Fordham and Duquesne are losing contact with the rest of the conference, and that includes 3-8 Rhode Island. For the Dukes, with a new coach and a program in disarray, the trend is not surprising as wins are hard to come by. Fordham, coming into the season with senior all-conference forward Chris Gaston and a promising young backcourt, has to be a disappointment to fans and university administrators. Granted, Gaston has struggled with injuries and extended absences, but the current late season fade continues a pattern established over the last five seasons.
What’s that you say? Jim Crews and Saint Louis are running away from the rest of the conference. (AP)
Saint Louis appears to be running away from the rest of the league. If the Bilikens’ numbers hold up over the course of this week (they play Butler next, after eviscerating VCU last night), expect coach Jim Crews’ squad to emerge with the #1 seed going into Brooklyn and up in the NCAA field where they are currently seeded in the #9-#11 range.
Temple’s -0.001 efficiency margin reflects the fact that the Owls have had a series of one-point decisions (more in Temple’s team report below) against both stronger teams (Charlotte) and weaker teams (Duquesne).
Going, going… The topic touched on during virtually every Division I basketball game over the last week is “Who is in?” usually accompanied by a discussion of bubble teams – right side/wrong side, S-curves and “What happened to…”. Alhough the field is still under construction and opinions vary as to whether the Atlantic 10 will have six bids (Jerry Palm as of February 17) or four (Joe Lunardi and RTC’s own Daniel Evans), there is an emerging consensus that several preview “contenders” are in the field, somewhere on (or near) the bubble and clearly out of the conversation entirely. Some quick takes on the “bubble… sort of’s” and those who are “out”:
Charlotte – Jerry Palm lists the 49ers as a #11 seed and well beyond the “Last Four In” category. Daniels lists them on his bubble watch of February 18 while Lunardi remains silent. Can good conference wins versus Butler and Xavier really negate double-figure losses to Richmond, George Washington and Saint Louis? More than any A-10 team not named Temple, winning their last five games going into the conference tournament will make or break this resume. Read the rest of this entry »
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this from Chaifetz Arena following Saint Louis’ 75-58 victory over Butler.
The world’s leading scientists have two theories on Butler coach Brad Stevens. The first is simple. He is a robot. The second is a bit more complicated — that Stevens is technically a human being, but he intentionally bottles up his emotions on the sidelines and plays up his poker face to keep his basketball team under control in all situations. Not even Einstein’s quite sure how the 36-year-old coaching prodigy’s brain works, but every hypothesis concludes with the same result. Brad Stevens is a mastermind. He is a genius with an unshakeable demeanor, a fierce general who leads with his actions not his words. He never screams, never yells, never loses his cool, never argues with the officials, never lashes out at reporters and does not even offer a fist-pump when his team wins on the most improbable of buzzer-beaters. Nothing rattles Brad Stevens.
Except for the Saint Louis defense. Oh, those Billikens defenders could send General Patton running for the hills. As he watched his team turn the ball over time after time after time after time during a humbling 75-58 loss at Chaifetz Arena on Thursday night, Stevens showed his human side on more than one occasion. When Khyle Marshall threw the ball away under his own basket in the first half and gave Saint Louis two free points – one of 16 turnovers before the break – Stevens called a timeout and lit into his junior forward. Freshman Devontae Morgan was the next victim of verbal abuse after some sort of indiscretion on the defensive end. Stevens chased around official Ted Valentine at times, and in the postgame press conference, he fully admitted his ninth ranked team looked like a disaster for 40 minutes. “It was an absolute joy to watch one team play,” Stevens said. “Problem was, it wasn’t the team I was coaching.” It wasn’t as though Stevens put on a show with his antics on Thursday night. Compared to the rest of the hooligans roaming the sidelines in Division I basketball, he looked like Mother Theresa. Still, Stevens showed noticeable frustration as his team suffered through a 26-4 Billiken run in the first half. The Bulldogs had difficulty getting the ball up the court and running even a single set in the halfcourt.
SLU Players Got to Celebrate Too During the Rush The Court
It was oddly reminiscent of another vintage performance by Saint Louis back in December, when the Billikens held New Mexico to fewer points (13) in the first half than turnovers (16). They punish teams with picture-perfect help defense, and they have quick forwards who may not block a ton of shots but certainly disrupt opponents with their foot speed. Wing Dwayne Evans’ hands are all over the place. Cory Remuken is the shot-blocker and hustle player in the frontcourt. Jordair Jett is like the Tasmanian devil in the backcourt. They are fast, tough, smart and almost impossible to score against when they are at their best, but Saint Louis stepped it up a notch against the Atlantic 10 newcomers. “We’re just getting stop after stop, just converting on offense, but it started on the defensive end,” Jett said. “We’re just thinking, ‘Step on it. Make the lead bigger.’”
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Things are a little quiet this week with mostly match-ups between top and bottom teams in the conferences. However, there are a few games that mean a lot to certain teams, including those in some of the smaller conferences. Let’s get to the breakdowns!
Pittsburgh at #8 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)
Pitino needs to stop the bleeding at Louisville (AP)
Louisville is in an absolute must-win situation. They have lost their last three games and have struggled at crunch time with opportunities to win. Everyone keeps saying the Cardinals still could be the team to beat in March. However, history shows that teams that lose three games in a row during the regular season rarely win the title. Only four teams since 1980 have lost three games in a row and still managed to win the whole thing – 1982-83 North Carolina State, 1984-85 Villanova, 1987-88 Kansas, and 2005-06 Florida. Only one team in history has lost four games in a row and still won the tourney – Danny Manning and the Miracles (Kansas actually lost five straight at one point that season). The reality is that Rick Pitino‘s team is a poor shooting team and unless they get that corrected quickly, Louisville should not be considered a threat to win it all. Pittsburgh on the other hand seems to be turning things around. After starting 1-3 in conference play, they have managed to rattle off four straight wins. Both teams need a win to stay within two games of Syracuse and Marquette in the Big East. Pitt has improved their shooting and offensive rebounding in the last four contests and has been able to play tough defense without putting teams on the line. Keep a close eye on how Pitt does in the paint against Louisville shot blocker Gorgui Dieng. The Panthers are not a threat from three, so most of their points will come from inside the arc. For Louisville, they need to convert their turnovers into points by simply hitting shots. While Pittsburgh is not as long as Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, they are not short. So Pitino’s crew needs to get to the basket for lay-ups and dunks. Shooting over the top is not a great way to break a shooting slump. Watch Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, as their performance on the interior will be the key to Louisville breaking their losing streak.
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Richmond and Butler. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Butler has not lost a game since falling to Illinois in the championship game of the Maui Invitational on November 21, but the Bulldogs did suffer a loss this past Saturday when leading scorer Rotnei Clarke experienced a sprained neck in the team’s win at Dayton. It became known Monday night that Clarke would miss two games — Wednesday versus Richmond and Saturday night against #9 Gonzaga — as he recovers from the injury. In tonight’s game with Richmond, the Bulldogs proved there was a lot more to their team than just Clarke as they led the whole game on their way to a dominant 62-47 victory. The following are three thoughts from Wednesday’s game:
Butler completely outworked Richmond on the boards (and that might be an understatement) – Butler outrebounded Richmond by a 53-20 margin tonigh — think about that. Butler had as many offensive rebounds as Richmond had total rebounds. The Bulldogs effectively held the Spiders to just six offensive boards. Those 20 offensive rebounds by the Bulldogs led to 21 second-chance points. Butler’s inside presence, led by starters Andrew Smith and Roosevelt Jones along with reserve Kameron Woods, grabbed a total of 26 rebounds while also playing hard-nosed defense that prevented the Spiders from getting anything going in the post. On a night where the Bulldogs shot just 37.5% from the field, they used their dominant rebounding effort to pave the way to an important conference victory.
Brad Stevens Knows How To Direct His Team
Andrew Smith’s production has been key to Butler’s success – In Butler’s December 15 win over Indiana, Smith went toe-to-toe with National Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller and held his own – even outplaying him for stretches of the upset victory. Smith has proven that his performance was no fluke, as he has become a very important part of the team’s success on both ends of the court. Since Atlantic 10 play began, Smith has taken his game to an even higher level. In the conference opener at Saint Joseph’s, he tallied 24 points and collected 10 rebounds. In the Bulldogs’ win at Dayton, Smith’s senior leadership along with his 13 points helped lead the team through the adversity of Clarke’s injury to another important road win. Against Richmond, Smith turned in another quality performance by controlling the paint and tallying 15 points and seven rebounds. The Atlantic 10 is going to provide the Bulldogs with stiff competition each night, so they are going to need Smith to remain a strong inside presence in order to keep winning. Read the rest of this entry »
Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).
Versus Other Conferences
With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.
The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).
The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week. Games/records are through January 2.
Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »